In a typical month, non-profit agency Project Self-Sufficiency serves thousands of clients at its Newton campus or in the privacy of their participants’ homes in the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon. With the advent of the current public health crisis, the agency’s more than 70 employees have had to quickly adapt to serving these individuals and families remotely. Nurses and home visitors who used to meet pregnant women and mothers of young children in the clients’ homes now talk to them using video chat platforms. High school dropouts in the middle of working towards their high school diploma now meet with instructors virtually. Men and women engaged in job training programs receive assistance over the phone and internet, rather than in the agency’s state-of-the-art career center and computer labs. Project Self-Sufficiency’s food pantry which routinely serves hundreds of families a month is now providing nutritious food to increasing numbers of families per day. At the same time, the agency has had to cancel its most lucrative fundraiser, A Taste of Talent, which can usually be relied on to bring in $250,000 to be used in support of its programs and services. The event has morphed into a direct mail and online giving initiative instead.
The agency issued a plea for the donation of non-perishable food for its food pantry weeks ago. The notice of the cancellation of A Taste of Talent followed shortly thereafter. The community response has been overwhelmingly positive, noted Project Self-Sufficiency Executive Director Berry-Toon. “While A Taste of Talent has been cancelled, we are deeply gratified by the unflagging support we continue to receive from our direct mail initiative. Our supporters are well aware of the significant impact this event has on our ability to provide essential services to families in need. We are blessed to live in a community which comes together in support of those in need when a crisis arises.”
Donations of food has been received from numerous individuals, organizations, and businesses. The limited agency staff on site have bundled the food into bags for safe distribution to clients and members of the public. “Our participants and their families are the most vulnerable to an economic downturn in our community. Even a temporary loss of income can be devastating to these families,” noted Berry-Toon. “We are tremendously proud of our staff’s commitment to continuing to serve the neediest individuals in our area at a time when their own home life may have been disrupted due to school closures and the furloughs of their own family members.”
Project Self-Sufficiency’s Central Intake, which fields calls from Sussex and Warren County residents in need of medical, educational and social services, has operated seamlessly since the onset of the public health crisis. “I feel extremely fortunate that our doors are open and that we are able to be here for our families,” noted Central Intake Worker Melanie Wawrzyniak. “We are hearing a lot of panic about basic needs, loss of income, keeping up with rental payments, navigating unemployment, and mental health and isolation. The increased need demonstrates how essential Project Self-Sufficiency’s services are to local families.”
Project Self-Sufficiency’s three home visitation programs for pregnant women and parents of young children has adapted quickly to remote services, even hosting a virtual gathering for mothers and children online this week. Program Supervisor Patrice Green notes that clients are eager to keep in touch with their home visitors. “Our Healthy Families, Parents as Teachers and Nurse Family Partnership staff are able to offer resources and support to these young women as they grapple with their own healthcare needs and the needs of their children and families.”
Nurse Supervisor Sandra Ooms, RN, works with the agency’s Nurse Family Partnership home visitation program. “We are reaching out to clients daily to make sure that they have the resources they need. Especially during this time, we teach them about health issues, and we discuss ways to keep pregnant women, mothers and babies safe. Stress reduction is very important during pregnancy and even more so now.“
Project Self-Sufficiency’s high school equivalency education program, New Jersey Youth Corps, as well as the employment skills training program, Higher Opportunities for Women, have also continued with the use of online tools. “The students in the New Jersey Youth Corps program are meeting twice a week on Zoom, and we are doing individual calls multiple times a week connecting over needs related to academics and any challenges they may be facing at home,” explains Career Center Coordinator Kyersten Geiger. All coursework is completed using Google platforms. The women enrolled in the agency’s HOW program are also using Zoom to meet virtually.
Agency staff is also making a concentrated effort to reach out to senior citizens affiliated with the Earth Angels program to ensure that they have the resources they need. Sarah Huertas, a Project Self-Sufficiency staff member who works with the agency’s Keeping Families Together program, commented, “We are grateful that we are able to continue to support families through this storm. We love to see our families’ faces on Zoom, hear their voices over the phone, and keep the connection going! It is extremely important that the families that we work with continue to feel supported and be secure in the knowledge that they are not alone during this time.”
Project Self-Sufficiency is accepting food and monetary donations, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Those who need assistance or who want to drop off a donation are encouraged to call the agency at 973-940-3500 prior to visiting the campus at 127 Mill Street in Newton. To make a donation, or to find out more about the programs and services offered by Project Self-Sufficiency, visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org.